The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday will ease indoor mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to safely stop wearing masks inside in most places, according to a person briefed on the announcement.
The new guidance will still call for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but could ease restrictions for reopening workplaces and schools.
It will also no longer recommend that fully vaccinated people wear masks outdoors in crowds.
The person spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the announcement ahead of the official release. The White House did not comment on the matter.
CDC’s announcement comes as the agency and the Biden administration have faced pressure to ease restrictions on fully vaccinated people – people who are two weeks past their last required COVID-19 vaccine dose – in part to highlight the benefits of getting the shot.
The eased guidance comes two weeks after the CDC recommended that fully vaccinated people continue to wear masks indoors in all settings and outdoors in large crowds.
In that guidance, the CDC also exaggerated the risk of Covid transmission outdoors as accounting for less than 10 percent of cases when the figure is likely less than one percent, experts say.
That’s sown distrust and confusion, fueling claims that the CDC has been keeping mask guidelines in places longer than it needs to.
Things came to a head earlier this week, as Republican lawmakers grilled CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky over masking guidelines, claiming that the agency had let them drag on too long.
To-date, more than 117 million fully vaccinated Americans are still advised to wear their masks anytime they are inside (besides at home) and in crowded places outdoors.
The CDC is expected to say on Thursday that people can stop wearing masks indoors
They charged that health guidelines have unnecessarily remained in place even as more and more Americans get vaccinated.
Collins, who was reelected to her fifth term in November, told Walensky that she ‘used to have the utmost respect for the guidance from the CDC’ but now feels it has issued ‘conflicting, confusing guidance’ that contradicts health officials.
‘I used to have the utmost respect for the guidance from the CDC. I always considered the CDC to be the gold standard. I don’t anymore,’ she lectured the agency head.
She accused the agency – whose leaders repeatedly said they operate based on the science and the available data – of ‘exaggerating’ the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
Republican senators tore into CDC Director Rochelle Walensky during a hearing Tuesday on the pandemic response, claiming the agency has been inconsistent and confusing
‘So, here we have unnecessary barriers to reopening schools, exaggerating the risks of outdoor transmission, and unworkable restrictions on summer camps. Why does this matter?’ Collins continued. ‘It matters because it undermines public confidence in your recommendation, in the recommendations that do make sense, in the recommendations that Americans should be following.’
The attack by Collins, an influential senator who sometimes cooperates with Democrats, came as her state’s Democratic governor joined a zoom call with President Joe Biden to talk about vaccine distribution and the pandemic.
At one point, Maine Gov. Janet Mills joked about people in her state responded to the CDC’s initially recommended 6-foot social distancing guidance. ‘Some people asked, why so close?’ she quipped.
Walensky – who in March warned about a feeling of ‘impending doom’ as U.S. infections rose – spoke with optimism about vaccines approved for young people aged 12-15 – even appearing to suggest they lobby their parents for the shot.
She made the statement when asked about government approval to extend the emergency use authorization for Pfizer for children aged 12-15.
‘I recognize some parents want to see how it goes, but I am encouraging all children to be vaccinated,’ she said during the hearing. ‘And I am also encouraging children to ask for the vaccine.’
‘I have a 16-year-old and I continue he wanted to get the vaccine. He wants his life back,’ she said.
Officials are eyeing young people as a cohort that can help boost the nation’s overall vaccine rates – with a substantial number of adults still saying they aren’t sure they want to get the shots.